Memories can’t be programmed, can they?

People depend on their memories for many reasons, from trying to remember their daily tasks to reminiscing about happier times.

It could be said that people’s memories define who they are, because their memories influence their personality based on past experiences, people they have met, and so on. Because of the importance of memory, we assume that our memories are perfectly reliable, unfortunately much research proves otherwise. Ultimately, not only can memories be questionable but they can be completely false as well with regards to just how people remember.

Psychology has demonstrated that our minds can be manipulated in how people memorize and remember events.

One particular study explained that their results inducing false memories of criminal acts in their subjects was influenced by exposure to misinformation given by interviewers (leading to memory distortions) and malleable reconstructive mechanisms (needed to remember events). The study proved that a person’s memory is not rigid and unchangeable, but can be affected by outside factors such as other people and the environment. This may have been a factor in such problems as false confessions by people who were incorrectly remembering their involvement (or even lack of involvement) in a crime. However, while malleable memories can not only be used negatively, they can also be used for healing trauma by preventing traumatic memories from invading a person’s mind. One psychological study proved that the frequency of intrusive memories caused by experimental trauma could be reduced by disrupting reconsolidation (process of remembering) through a cognitive task that required a person’s attention.

Photo Credit: Benny Armias

When a person relives their trauma because it keeps flashing back at them, introducing a task that requires the person’s attention would prevent that traumatic memory from being reinforced, causing the memory to become less stable.

As a result, the person would be less likely to recall the traumatic experience because the memory is not stabilized. Psychology has continued to test how easily a person’s memory can be changed, and studies have shown that memory manipulation does work.

The effects of memory extend to even our perception, in how we see and remember what happened.

One study indicated that if a person were to remember being rewarded (as in having something pleasurable happen to them), the memory of that reward would help them perceive more things happening in a complex scene. If a person were to get a reward and recall it while they were looking at something happening before them, the study results indicate that their eyes would be functioning at a better capacity than if they were not rewarded. A connection between both perception and memory was further indicated by the fact that with the memory of better rewards came an even better visual performance in one’s eyes and brain. Of course, people could also incorrectly remember scenes that they saw, showing the double-edged sword involved in the link between perception and memory.

The idea of boundary extension is that we see things and remember them differently by extending the boundaries of that image. This phenomenon can occur incredibly rapidly, fast enough that it intervenes between seeing and remembering, causing the false memory to occur. Because of the speed in which it occurs, it further explains just how what we remember can be affected by so many other factors, from people to rewards to even visual illusions.

As perception and memory become linked to each other, it brings into question how much we correctly remember about what we have seen.

Memory is easily manipulated, as psychology has proven repeatedly. Whether we remember events, people, or scenes that were recently seen, memories can be affected as we remember them. The potential for this phenomenon is both positive and negative, depending on how it is used.

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